Diagnosing Heart Attacks

When diagnosing heart attacks, doctors will ask questions about things such as current symptoms and heart disease risk factors, and perform a physical exam. Tests used in making a heart attack diagnosis include electrocardiograms (EKGs), blood tests, and nuclear heart scans.

An Introduction to Diagnosing Heart Attacks

In order to make a heart attack diagnosis, the healthcare provider will work quickly to find out if you are having or have had a heart attack. He or she will ask a number of questions about your:
Your healthcare provider will also perform a physical exam looking for signs or symptoms of a heart attack. He or she will also order certain tests or procedures. Initial tests will be quickly followed by heart attack treatment if you are having a heart attack.

Tests for Diagnosing Heart Attacks

Tests for diagnosing heart attacks include:
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
An electrocardiogram is used to measure the rate and regularity of your heartbeat. A 12-lead EKG is used in diagnosing a heart attack.
Blood Tests
When cells in the heart die, they release enzymes into the blood. These enzymes are called markers or biomarkers. Measuring the amount of these markers in the blood can show how much damage was done to your heart. These tests are often repeated at intervals to check for changes. The specific blood tests used are:
  • Troponin test. This test checks the troponin (a protein found in muscle tissue) levels in the blood. It is considered the most accurate blood test to determine if a heart attack has occurred and how much damage was done to the heart.
  • CK or CK-MB test. These tests check for the amount of the different forms of creatine kinase (an enzyme present in muscle, brain, and other tissues) in the blood.
  • Myoglobin test. This test checks for the presence of myoglobin in the blood. Myoglobin is released when the heart or other muscle is injured.
Nuclear Heart Scan
A nuclear heart scan uses radioactive tracers (technetium or thallium) to outline heart chambers and major blood vessels leading to and from the heart. A nuclear heart scan shows any damage to your heart muscle.
Written by/reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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